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3D Graphics Technology: VRML Part I - Introduction

Virtual reality modeling language provides the graphics capability to let you create 3D objects, even whole worlds, which you can upload to your website. Visitors can then interact with these virtual items. VRML has many applications. In this first article in a series, Eliana Stavrou explains the basics and provide examples.

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By: Eliana Stavrou
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February 14, 2005
  1. · 3D Graphics Technology: VRML Part I - Introduction
  2. · History of VRML
  3. · Producing VRML
  4. · Examples

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3D Graphics Technology: VRML Part I - Introduction - History of VRML
(Page 2 of 4 )

In this section I will provide a brief development timeline of VRML.

The term Virtual Reality Markup Language (VRML) was first used by Tim Berners-Lee at a European Web conference in 1994 when he talked about the necessity of a 3D Web standard. Following the conference, a group of experts gathered together and formed a mailing list called www-vrml. The group changed the name of the standard from Virtual Reality Markup Language to Virtual Reality Modeling Language to emphasize the role of graphics. The result of their effort was to produce the VRML 1 specification. As a basis for this specification, they used a subset of the Inventor file format from Silicon Graphics.

The VRML 1 standard created only static virtual worlds, a limitation that prevented the dissemination of the standard. The drawback was solved with the development of the VRML 2 standard, which provided interactivity with the virtual world. In 1997, VRML 2 was adopted as the International Standard ISO/IEC 14772-1:1997. Since that time it is referred to as VRML97.

The VRML97 standard is improved by the Web 3D Consortium. X3D stands for eXtensible 3D, a next-generation standard that is the successor to VRML97, and an XML-enabled 3D file format to enable real-time communication of 3D data. It has a rich set of features for use in engineering and scientific visualization, CAD and architecture, medical visualization, training and simulation, multimedia, entertainment, educational, and more. For more information, see http://www.web3d.org.


The major features of VRML are listed below:

  • Platform independent: VRML can be used on any platform, such as PCs and Macs.
  • Navigation: You can explore a VRML world, navigate through the objects such as houses and skyscrapers, link to other VRML worlds through hyperlinks that are associated with specific objects, and so forth. In addition, the usage of sensors allows an action to occur when a particular event happens such as a drag, touch, etc.

Moving through a 3D space is similar to moving a camera. The camera has a position and an orientation, attributes that are specified according to your movements within the world. The usage of a camera is called a Viewpoint in VRML terms.

  • Effects: VRML lets you specify a variety of appearance and sound effects. For example you can use lighting, add backgrounds and textures, make an object transparent, add background noise, and so forth. In addition, you can use animation to make your world more interesting, by (for example) animating or rotating an object.
  • Collisions: You can detect a collision between a user and an object, such as a user trying to pass through a house wall, and prohibit him.
  • Scripting: By using scripting, your virtual world can execute scripts written in high-level programming languages such as Java and C++, allowing you to achieve more complex behaviors within the world.
  • Extensible: VRML gives you the option to create your own nodes using Prototypes if the default VRML nodes are not enough.

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